Will Sutton, president of the National Association of Black Journalists, was standing in the middle of a swank Washington, D.C., museum lobby, chatting with colleagues at the 2000 American Society of Newspaper Editors convention when an old friend approached. Sutton turned to the friend, now a journalism professor, and his face turned from jovial to glum. “I’m not happy right now. The numbers are out, and we’re not doing as well as last year,’’ said Sutton, a deputy managing editor at the Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer. “Numbers?” “The ASNE survey,” Sutton said. “There are fewer blacks working in newsrooms than the previous year.” Indeed. The mantra of the moment, according to editors, educators, recruiters and leaders of journalism organizations, is that everyone agrees that more needs to be done to diversify the nation’s newsrooms – print and broadcast. It is the goal of ASNE that by 2025 or earlier, the percentage of minorities in newspaper newsrooms will equal that of the general population. But right now, the numbers don’t match up. An estimated 11.64 percent of newspaper journalists are minorities – Asian Americans, blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans, according to ASNE’s latest census of newsrooms. That’s down from 11.85 percent the previous year – the first drop in minority newsroom employment since 1978. But 30 percent of the U.S. population is minority, according to the latest Census Bureau estimate. Further, ASNE reports that 44 percent of all daily newspapers do not employ any minorities in the newsroom. “The newspaper industry should be appalled because there have been so many efforts to improve the number of journalists of color,’’ Sutton said in an interview last month. For years, ASNE has been counting the numbers of minorities in newsrooms and urging its members to do something about the low numbers. National broadcast-related organizations, such as the Radio-Television News Directors Association, have been doing the same thing. But the responsibility for diversifying newsrooms is hardly one the industry is shouldering alone. In recent years, colleges and journalism foundations have collaborated to come up with novel ideas to put more minorities into “the pipeline,” so to speak, for jobs in newsrooms. A DAUNTING TASK Many of those interviewed said it will be a daunting task to reach parity – the term for making the percentage of journalists of color at newspapers comparable to the percentage of minorities in the general population. The Freedom Forum and ASNE, in separate reports, said that for the industry to achieve the goal set by ASNE, it would have to seriously increase the number of journalists of color in newsrooms. The federal government estimates that in 2025, the percentage of minorities in the United States will be 32.8 percent. The reports say that the newspaper industry would have to hire an estimated 550 journalists of color each year in order to reach that percentage. But an even bigger problem than recruiting the journalists is keeping them; last year, according to ASNE, more than 600 journalists of color abandoned the business. That means, to stay on track, the industry will have to hire more than 1,000 journalists of color a year. That might not be impossible, but it’s a tougher fight than some had expected, said Reginald Stuart, a former president of the Society of Professional Journalists and a recruiter for Knight Ridder Co. “A lot of people in the 1970s didn’t realize it would be a perpetual campaign,” said Stuart, who worked for several major newspapers, including The New York Times, during his long career. Wanda Lloyd, a veteran news executive with Gannett Co. papers such as USA Today, intends to supply 80 of the necessary journalists of color each year. Now director of the Freedom Forum’s Institute for Newsroom Diversity, located at Vanderbilt University, Lloyd is upbeat about the prospects of improving the numbers. “We can make a difference with what we are doing here,” Lloyd said. “Particularly since our program both gets people into the pipeline and deals with the troublesome issue of retention.” The Institute gets people into the pipeline – a term editors use to describe the source for new hires – by getting local newspapers to nominate “nontraditional students” to be trained as journalists. Lloyd predicts that newspaper editors, particularly those at small and mid-size newspapers, will scour their communities for lawyers, police officers and people with journalism degrees who are not working in the newsroom. The idea is to get the newspaper to sponsor them as students at the Institute, where veteran journalists and educators will take the nontraditional students through a 12-week crash course in reporting, writing, editing and news values. After that, the students would be sent to work at the newspapers that nominated them, and a new class of nontraditional students would come in for training. In all, four classes of 20 students would graduate from the Institute in a year – providing 80 journalists a year to places where they are sorely needed. “Because these people have strong ties to the community before our training, they are very likely to remain there,” said Lloyd, who is also on ASNE’s board of directors. Traditionally, small and mid-size newspapers – which account for 90 percent of all daily newspapers in the country – cannot keep talented, young journalists of color on their staffs. The lure of money, prestige and a larger minority population at big-city newspaper markets has hurt recruiting efforts for smaller newspapers. Lloyd also is upbeat about a related but separate initiative by the Freedom Forum, ASNE and the Associated Press Managing Editors (APME). It’s called the Fellows Program, and under it, journalists of color who agree to work for two years at a small newspaper get a salary supplement of $5,000 every six months. It will take creative but practical efforts like this one, Stuart said, to entice potential journalists to the field – not just to smaller newspapers. “Some of the folks we’re going after have unpaid student loans,” Stuart said. “You have to be very practical to address the very real issue that potential journalists bring to the table. I don’t think we have been creative enough with compensation.” FINDING A PARTNER Reginald Owens, a former Houston Post reporter who now teaches at Louisiana Tech University, also argues for a creative approach to recruiting. Owens said the journalism industry, particularly the newspaper industry, isn’t making a strong enough commitment to historically black colleges and universities. He recently conducted a survey on college newspapers and university facilities, such as personal computers, at historically black colleges. The survey was funded by the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, on whose board of directors he serves. “It was clear that many – no, most – [historically black colleges and universities] didn’t have the facilities they needed,” Owens said. “I interviewed people in some places and asked them, ‘Do you have a college newspaper,’ and they would say, ‘Of course, we have a newspaper,’ and I would later find out that the paper came out once a year.” Owens said that part of a newspaper’s minority recruiting budget should be diverted from attending so many job fairs and instead given to minority colleges to buy personal computers, printers and support a college newspaper or television station. “I’ve been to conferences where a newspaper had 40 people there,” Owens said. “Now, if each one of them is spending $1,000 of their newspaper’s money, because that’s what it costs me to attend some of these things, that’s $40,000. Surely, some of that money can go elsewhere.” The Scripps Howard Foundation is making a bold effort to help historically black colleges and universities. Earlier this year, the Foundation pledged $10 million to Hampton University in Virginia. Some $4 million of the funds are earmarked for a Scripps Howard Center at Hampton that is scheduled to open in early 2002. The remainder of the funds will be used for endowed scholarships, faculty development and a visiting professor program. The foundation said it looked for a historically black college to support because 27 percent of African-Americans who earn bachelor’s degrees get those credentials from black colleges. “Clearly, improving journalism at a place like Hampton can have a major impact on the industry,” said Charlotte Grimes, the former St. Louis Post-Dispatch Washington-based correspondent and columnist who was named to head the journalism school at Hampton. Grimes came in last fall and revamped the curriculum, increased the academic rigor and got on the telephone to recruit experienced journalists as instructors. “Some were so committed to what we were doing they didn’t want to be paid to teach,” she said. Several top journalism schools, including the one at Ohio University, have agreed to exchange students and faculty. NABJ is also working closely with Hampton as part of a separate $300,000 grant from the Scripps Howard Foundation. “This is the kind of partnership between an institution and the industry that we need more of,’ Sutton said. The goal is ambitious: “We want to be one of the top journalism schools in the country,” said Grimes, who has taught at Princeton and Syracuse. She expects her students will be so prepared, armed with internships and clips from local newspapers, that recruiters will be eager to get Hampton graduates. Grimes and Scripps Howard believe their plan can be a model for other black colleges. “What we are doing here at Hampton can serve as a role model for other universities and particularly for other historically black colleges and universities. I would love to see other companies step up to the plate in the same way and build a close relationship with an individual institution,” Grimes said. In another example of a partnering that addresses diversity, the Freedom Forum’s Neuharth Center at the University of South Dakota established this past year a formal academic partnership with the university to create the first-of-its-kind American Indian Journalism Institute. American Indians are the most underrepresented minority group in newsrooms, with fewer than 250 working for daily newspapers.
The inaugural program was held in June for 40 students from 15 states and 24 tribes who will receive six hours of college credit from USD, according to Jack Marsh, who directs the institute and the Neuharth Center. The program is designed to increase the number of American Indians working at daily newspapers. A number of the participants are from “tribal colleges where typically recruiters do not show up,” he said. The program puts participants through the paces of basic journalism and some of them will work later in the summer in five newspaper internships that have been established as part of the program, Marsh said. Mary Kay Blake, senior vice president/partnerships and initiatives for the Freedom Forum, said, “We are looking to fish in new ponds to find those who are interested in newspaper careers and looking for partnerships that will have a direct impact.” Howard University, which statistics show has turned out the largest number of African-American communications graduates in the country for some years, began a pilot program in September, also under the auspices of the Freedom Forum, to recruit students from non-journalism majors at Howard to be trained to work as copy editors. “This is an exciting time to partner with industry and foundations, particularly because of the diversity issue,” said Jannette Dates, dean of Howard’s School of Communications. News organizations, she said, have tended in past years to “give financial support to mainstream institutions than to historically black schools.” Oswaldo Zavala, a native of Mexico, thinks international students need a little more attention from the industry. He graduated two years ago from the University of Texas with a journalism degree and, while an undergraduate, he worked for a newspaper all four years. He also did an internship with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and worked for a magazine and a television station. Now he’s a summer intern at the Freedom Forum’s office in suburban Washington, D.C., a graduate student and a free-lance magazine writer. He said several newspapers have expressed interest in hiring him, but he’s worried that he won’t land a full-time job before he has to return to Mexico to keep from violating U.S. immigration laws. “International students are a good source of new talent, too,” Zavala said. “In effect, we are U.S. journalists, since we study at journalism schools here and many of us want to remain in the U.S. after our studies.” Paul Mitchell, who coordinates recruiting and retention for the journalism faculty at the University of Nevada-Reno, said that in addition to the obvious markets for journalistic talent, newspapers must start the search earlier. “Junior high school may be too late,” Mitchell said. “We are in a battle to get students’ attention before they become interested in other matters. We have to act more aggressively.” CREATING A TRUST The broadcast industry is apparently doing so. While the percentage of minorities at newspapers is down, the picture is different for the broadcasting industry, according to RTNDA. Many feared that when, in 1998, the Federal Communications Commission abolished affirmative action rules governing television and radio stations, the industry would abandon such policies. They didn’t. Nearly one-quarter of jobs in television news are held by minorities – the highest percentage ever, according to an RTNDA study, done jointly with Ball State University, that was released in June. The 24.6 percent of minorities, up from 21 percent last year, include jobs at Spanish-language stations. English-speaking TV stations have 21.8 percent of their jobs held by minorities. In radio, minorities hold 10.7 percent of news jobs, according to the survey. Women make up just fewer than 40 percent of the television news work force and 37 percent in radio news. But while the broadcast numbers are more positive than those in print, there are still improvements that need to be made. The percentage of minorities who are news directors at television stations fell to 8 percent from last year’s 14 percent. In radio, the number of minorities who are news directors has been cut in half to 4 percent since 1994. “While the industry is making gains in many areas, there is a critical need for more minorities in management positions,” said Barbara Cochran, RTNDA president. Answering the call of Paul Mitchell and others to start diversity efforts earlier, RTNDA’s charitable foundation is looking at ways to improve broadcasting facilities in high school. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation last year awarded a $429,999 grant to the foundation to research the quality and quantity of facilities at high schools. Owens said high school efforts will go a long way toward providing minorities with a new appreciation of the mass media. “We can’t dismiss the fact that there is a great deal of mistrust of the media in minority communities,” he said. “A kid goes to his family and says, ‘I want to be a lawyer,’ and they, ‘all right.’ But there’s not that same enthusiasm if the kid goes to his family and says, ‘I want to be a journalist.’” Owens said the recruiting effort should focus on the writing part of journalism. “We need to show these young people the possibilities” of journalism, he said. “Too many of them run from writing, but they don’t run from putting ideas, songs and poetry together. That is what rapping is all about.” Jasmine Kripalani, a May graduate of Florida International University, said she’s not sure what will inspire more minorities to pursue journalism. But she suspects that all of the special programs geared toward minorities are counterproductive. Some students may not aspire to the business because they feel they’re being selected because of their ethnicity rather than their talent. “The word minority should be rephrased in some of the promotional literature to ‘representing your society and the newsroom,’” said Kripalani, whose father was East Indian and whose mother is Guatemalan. “This whole issue of a special category is troubling.” But it may be necessary to focus attention on the problem of diversity. In the end, it is not the numerous programs, statistical studies, criticism from minority journalism groups or massive recruiting budgets that will make a difference in diversifying newsrooms, Knight Ridder’s Stuart said. It all comes down to one person. “And that’s the owner of the media company,” Stuart said. “If the boss says, ‘do this, and do this now,’ it will happen.”
Mike McQueen is chair of the Department of Journalism and Broadcasting at Florida International University. June Nicholson, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, also contributed to this article.